BEIRUT — Palestinian armed factions on Tuesday conducted large-scale military maneuvers in the Gaza Strip, coinciding with the 18th anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from the coastal enclave.
The maneuvers, dubbed Hard Corner 4, were held for the fourth year in a row by the so-called Joint Operations Room of the Palestinian Resistance Factions, which includes the armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad as well as 10 other factions in the Gaza Strip.
The Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigade said on its website that the drills aim to showcase the readiness and ongoing preparations of the armed factions to confront Israel. The brigade published photos of the military exercises, showing masked fighters using heavy weapons and simulating ground attacks.
The Joint Operations Room also released a video of the drills, which included the launching of long-range rockets toward the Mediterranean Sea. The video also showed fighters in scuba gear conducting drills off Gaza’s coast.
The military exercise comes as tensions continue to escalate in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Palestinians have come under increased settler attacks, coupled with almost daily Israeli raids into West Bank cities and towns. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed in clashes, attacks and other incidents this year, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said last month. Most recently, a Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces near the city of Hebron over the weekend.
The situation has led to the emergence of armed groups across the West Bank amid the rising popularity of Hamas. Palestinians have blamed the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its security coordination with Israel for the deteriorating security conditions in the territory.
Palestinians have also carried out attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and inside Israel. On Tuesday, two Israelis were injured in a shooting attack in the village of Huwarra near Nablus.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, said the military exercise proves the factions’ steadfastness to confront any Israeli aggression, including in the West Bank.
“The occupation's escalating aggression in the city of Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank will not give it an inch of its alleged legitimacy, and its crimes will not succeed in changing the facts of history and the reality on the ground," the statement said.
Mohammed al-Deif, commander of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, said the “armed resistance” is the only option for Palestinians to establish their own independent state.
"We will force Israel to evacuate the West Bank and all the occupied Palestinian territories,” he added during a televised speech on the sidelines of the military maneuvers.
In another development, infighting in Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp continues unabated despite cease-fires announced this week.
Members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement have been engaged in sporadic battles with rival Islamist groups in Ain al-Hilweh in the southern city of Sidon since the assassination of a senior Fatah official in the camp in late July.
On Tuesday, the deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, Mousa Abu Marzouk, arrived in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, for talks on the situation in Ain al-Hilweh.
Abu Marzouk will meet with Lebanese officials and representatives of Palestinian factions to push for a cease-fire, according to a Hamas statement.
At least six people have been killed and more than 50 others injured in the renewed fighting that erupted last Thursday. Hundreds of the camp’s residents were forced to flee, while the road linking Sidon to Beirut has been closed off.